Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.
Illustration by Yuxin Qin
Ask yourself: Has there ever been a time when you sought the services of a nonprofit organization but something just didn’t feel right? Unfortunately, this is a common dilemma for minority groups and various ethnic populations.
For example, consider you’re a Spanish-speaking customer from a neighborhood that as of recently is facing a housing crisis due to COVID-impacted job losses. You find a local nonprofit in your community that you think might be able to help you find and utilize resources relating to rental assistance. You are hesitant to enter the organization because of the lack of Spanish-translated flyers, information posted outside, and because the individuals pictured do not represent you or those from your community.
Upon entering, you are greeted by an individual who does not speak Spanish. You kindly ask for assistance in Spanish, but are told they do not have anyone who speaks your language; you are worried and in need of assistance, but are just not comfortable speaking in English. With an attempt nonetheless, you begin to explain in English your needs and the struggles that your community is facing with the hopes of receiving useful support. The employee is unaware of the issues you face, and is unsure on how to help. You are disappointed that the nonprofit was unprepared to serve your community, and lacked the resources and information to genuinely help.
The concept of Diversity-Equity-Inclusion (DEI) helps nonprofits stay relevant to the communities they serve. Why does DEI matter? Diversity highlights all the ways in which people differ; equity is the fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement for all individuals; and inclusion is the act of creating environments where all individuals and groups can feel welcomed, respected, supported and valued to fully participate.
DEI in nonprofit organizations has been at the forefront of conversations, and many have taken heightened interest in self-exploration to build organizational values of diversity, equity and inclusion into their operations. This is a positive and important step for nonprofits, but it isn’t enough. As stated by the National Council of Nonprofits, embracing DEI as an organizational value will provide positive outcomes in direct services and capacity building, but if those strategies are not relevant to the individuals and communities they serve, impact will not reach its full potential.
Relevancy is the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate. Think of your organization as one circle that says, “what you want to say,” the community you serve is another circle that says, “what they’re interested/going through,” and the middle or intersection point is what is relevant. If your organization doesn't provide services in a manner that makes the consumers feel connected, then their full attention won't be obtained.
How can your nonprofit use its DEI strategies to stay relevant? Implementing these five strategies into your current nonprofit organizations DEI initiatives will ensure that your organization is critically thinking about and including the community you serve into all layers of your organizational structure.
Strategy #1: Board diversity - Continually analyze your board demographics and ask the questions of if it is representative of the community and clients you serve.
Strategy #2: Understand your communities socioeconomic status, demographics and inequalities - Stay privy to your community’s data, demographics and inequities being faced. Don’t just know and understand your community, adjust and accommodate programs accordingly.
Strategy #3: Provide attainable and inviting opportunities - Provide plenty of volunteer opportunities, create advisory boards, community youth partnerships and internships.
Strategy #4: Recruit from those who use your services and provide mentorship - Look into the communities and individuals you serve to consider for employment, advisory councils and board composition.
Strategy #5: Create an inclusive organizational culture - Changes need to be relevant and reflective of the communities and clients you serve, but should happen naturally as a result of your inclusiveness activities. Audit your organizations printed materials, online activity and physical environment in relation to your clients and community.
Clients and communities want to engage with nonprofits that they can relate to with diverse boards who provide opportunities and who share similar experiences. By implementing these five strategies, nonprofit organizations can be certain that they are creating a path to providing inclusive and inviting services and celebrating organizational culture that is relative and reflective of their target populations.
Rosario Espinoza is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. She is the wellness administrator for the Cartwright School District, advocating for a school learning environment that promotes and reinforces health and well-being for students, staff and the community. She collaborates with others to provide opportunities for, and access to, daily physical activity, high-quality, nutritious school food and effective health education. She also works with ASU's Watts College of Public Service and Community Service as a community champion for the Maryvale One Square Mile initiative. Rosario is a mother of two who loves to powerlift.